In his opinion page essay this week David Zwartz, Honorary Consul of Israel in New Zealand, celebrated Israel's 60th birthday. He praises the young nation for creating a safe haven for Jews following the German holocaust and for being a world leader in fields such as information technology and medicine.
For both of these reasons, praise is indeed deserved. During its barbaric reign, the Nazi regime massacred more than 11 million people, six million of whom were Jews. The establishment of a home where Jews would feel secure was therefore understandable despite the justifiable controversy surrounding the chosen location.
Moreover, Israelis have proven themselves to be quite entrepreneurial in a variety of fields including the aforementioned but also in computer, irrigation, and weapons technology, all of which contribute to an impressive economy. In short, there is ample cause for celebration.
And yet, not everyone joins in the festivities. Let us momentarily put aside the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and the wars of 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006 (three of which Zwartz omits) for these are disputed points, unresolvable in a newspaper.
Instead, let us examine some of the other achievements of the 60-year-old Jewish state.
Uri Avnery, former Israeli Parliamentarian, has satirically described Gaza as Israel's greatest accomplishment: the world's largest open-air prison and one of the worst ongoing humanitarian disasters. Indeed, according to Oxfam's 2008 report, three quarters of Palestinians residing in Gaza rely on food aid to survive; more than half the population is unemployed; and, because of Israeli-imposed blockades on power and medicine, hospitals and clinics are near collapse.
The control Israel continues to exert over the Occupied Territories - the West Bank and Gaza - is made possible by the two walls the Jewish state has erected around Palestinian lands, both of which dwarf the abomination that was the Berlin wall. In addition to collectively imprisoning the Palestinian people within their homes, construction of the walls has also produced land confiscations, house demolitions and forced displacements. Despite representing mammoth feats of engineering and architecture, in the words of the International Court of Justice, these walls merit our condemnation and not our admiration.
Israel is also responsible for one of the world's largest and longest-lasting refugee crises. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates that nearly one million people were made refugees as a result of the partition. In addition, the subsequent wars have caused the displacement of many more. Today, UNRWA places the total number of Palestinian refugees at more than four million, a quarter of which are scattered in impoverished refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
Though the 6000 African refugees identified by Zwartz are surely appreciative of the consideration afforded to them by the Israeli state, four million Palestinian refugees are still waiting to go home.
Regrettably, the list goes on.
The Jewish National Fund may have planted millions of pine trees but these do not balance out the millions of Palestinian olive trees that the Israeli Army has ripped out.
Israeli inventors may have developed a sophisticated irrigation system but this is of no assistance to Palestinians. As reported by B'Tselem, Israel's own human rights organisation, the average consumption of water for Palestinians is just 70 litres per person per day; 30 litres less than the World Health Organization's recommended minimum and 280 litres less than Israel's per capita use (much of which is siphoned from underground water sources located, ironically enough, in the West Bank).
Israel may be building an electric car network but one cannot help but wonder whether the roads on which these cars will travel will also be restricted to Jews only as are hundreds of kilometres of racially segregated roads that snake across the West Bank and stand in the way of a contiguous Palestinian state.
In short, for some individuals Israel's 60th birthday is a cause for celebration but for many others it is a cause for mourning.
New Zealand Jews and Israelis should know that relations between New Zealand and the Israeli state remain strained not because, as asserted by Zwartz, Israeli Mossad agents fraudulently attempted to obtain New Zealand passports but because New Zealanders feel sympathy for the Palestinians and their desire for a homeland.
An improvement of this relationship will occur once Israelis take steps towards respecting their international human rights obligations and end the occupation - an occupation, it should be noted, that has lasted more than 40 years of Israel's 60-year life.
Within many Palestinian communities, there is a tradition of giving gifts - in contrast to receiving them - on one's birthday; to spread the joy a new year brings. Israel should reflect on this custom and, on its 60th birthday, spread its joy by ending the occupation and allowing the Palestinians to build the very thing Israelis enjoy today: a homeland.
* Mohsen al Attar, a lecturer at the University of Auckland law faculty, says this piece is a "Palestinian-Kiwi" perspective.By Mohsen al Attar